What we’re playing: ‘Super Beat Sports’ and ‘Animal Crossing’

Welcome back to Gaming IRL, a monthly segment where several editors talk about what they’ve been playing in their downtime. This month we’ve been loving Super Beat Sports and Stardew Valley and taking an early look at Nintendo’s Animal Crossing mobile game. But first, let Kris Naudus tell you about the scariest dating sim she’s ever played.

This article contains spoilers for ‘Doki Doki Literature Club.’

Doki Doki Literature Club

Kris Naudus

Kris Naudus
Senior Editor, Database

It’s sort of impossible to not have expectations when you start a game. I certainly had preconceived notions when I began playing Doki Doki Literature Club. I’d seen headlines that proclaimed it one of the scariest games of the year, and I certainly knew I was in for something… interesting when one of the opening screens warned that people with depression should not play.

The game looks like another dating sim, with your main character wooing the girl of his choice from among three options: the cheerful best friend (Sayori), the quiet geeky lady (Yuri) and the nasty but secretly nice freshman (Natsuki). Your courtship is conducted by writing poems, angling your word choices toward the girl you hope to end up with. I found the whole thing rather tedious. But when the girls would show me their own works of poetry, the cracks started to show. They were weird. They were unsettling. Clearly we were heading somewhere outside of the normal bounds of otome games.

The more I progressed with sensitive girl Yuri, the more my relationships with the other girls unraveled. Monika, the president of the eponymous literature club, was catty and passive-aggressive. Natsuki hated me. Sayori confessed that she suffered from severe depression. But it was when Sayori revealed her true feelings to me that things fell apart.

I could either tell her I loved her or reject her with an affirming “You’re my best friend.” I became disgusted with the game. I was angered by the obvious emotional blackmail, even if Sayori never actually said, “I will hurt myself if you reject me.” I had already committed myself to choosing Yuri. So I rejected Sayori. And the game did exactly what I expected it to.

Still, I felt awful, and resolved to do “right” by her on my next playthrough.

That’s one of the things we count on with video games. You live, you die, you live again. You can always reload your last save, start from the beginning of the board or even reset and do the whole thing all over again. This is especially important with visual novels and dating sims, where you might want to play it again to see all the paths untaken. This is expected enough that some games now count on it, requiring multiple playthroughs to reach the “true” ending like the Zero Escape series, or rewarding you with new story paths and game modes like Hatoful Boyfriend does.

Doki Doki Literature Club punishes you.

I figured I’d pick Sayori the next time around, if only to see what her story would have been like, to see how things would have been different if only I had just chosen her. But when I loaded the game, she was nowhere to be found. She had been removed from the game.

The choices are always wrong. You’re always going to fail.

So, with that choice removed, I made a play for Natsuki instead. And while I did everything I was supposed to do, I somehow ended up getting scenes with Yuri again and again and again, until… well, things continued to go wrong.

In the end, that’s the real horror of Doki Doki. In visual novels, you’re supposed to make choices and have those decisions matter. Sometimes you’re wrong and you fail, but you try again. Here, the choices are always wrong. You’re always going to fail. The game will emotionally abuse you as long as you continue to play. It will even break down the fourth wall to do it, something that made me scream, even though I knew the entire time it was just a game.

I’m constantly reminded of the ending of War Games, where “the only winning move is not to play.” And if you never open Doki Doki Literature Club, all of the girls get to live and be happy. Or not. It’s Schrödinger’s cat, but in a file folder.

Opening this box made me feel awful. But it also constantly surprised me. It’s like riding a roller coaster, or watching a jump scare in a horror movie. You feel a terrible shock for a brief moment, and then you find yourself laughing afterwards. Doki Doki didn’t make me laugh, but it subverted my expectations and denied my choices so brazenly, I can’t help but smile a bit.

Stardew Valley

Rob LeFebvre

Rob LeFebvre
Contributing Writer

Oh, I do love Stardew Valley on the Nintendo Switch. I’ve just gotten through winter, my least favorite season so far, and my virtual farm is finally shaping up again. I’ve got beanstalks, parsnips and a few other “springtime” seeds in the ground, and I’m watering them daily with my upgraded watering can, which can pour across three different plants at once. I’ve got a full chicken coop with four egg-layers in there and a barn with a couple of cows that just started producing milk. I know pretty much all of the folks in town, including the wizard and that weird ancient mariner who has a magic amulet he refuses to sell to me.

If video games are all about a sense of progression and mastery, Stardew Valley ticks all the boxes. It’s clearly inspired by the Harvest Moon games, though it also has a touch of Animal Crossing thrown in for good measure. You are given a farm by a relative and tasked with meeting the residents, amassing a fortune and (of course) growing crops and raising animals. That’s really not the whole of it, though.

Stardew Valley offers quite a bit of exploration, combat (while in the deep mines — I’ve only made it down to level 65) and supernatural mystery to boot, with a haunted community center, the aforementioned wizard and some weird totems scattered around town. There are holiday festivals for each major season change too. Taking it on the go is even better; I’ve whiled away plenty of time, while waiting for my kid to finish a piano lesson, harvesting blueberries and fighting off slimes in the mines. Overall, Stardew Valley is a charming title with a ton of things to do; you won’t get bored if you enjoy the gentle Zen of growing crops and exploring your little corner of the world.

Super Beat Sports

Timothy J. Seppala

Timothy J. Seppala
Associate Editor

Like many others, I got my first exposure to Harmonix’s work through Guitar Hero 2. But outside of The Beatles: Rock Band, I didn’t spend a ton of time with the studio’s band-simulator franchise. Usually I didn’t have friends around to play it with, and lugging out a plastic drum set for a quick song was always a pain. I’ve loved the studio’s one-off games like Rock Band Unplugged for PSP and Rock Band Blitz for consoles, though, because they took what I loved about the full-on games — awesome licensed music and beat-matching gameplay that was second to none — and stripped away the bulky plastic instruments. Imagine my surprise when I fired up the team’s Nintendo Switch effort Super Beat Sports and discovered it was basically a portable Rock Band in disguise.

I’m talking specifically about the “Whacky Bat” mini game. On the surface, it looks like a simple batting practice exercise, with adorable pink monsters hurling baseballs at you in time with music. You have to knock them back from whence they came, using audio cues to get the timing right. It all seemed a little familiar, but I couldn’t figure out why. After a few rounds of this, I unlocked “Pro Mode,” which had me facing down multiple monster pitchers across five lanes, swapping between each. That’s when it hit me: This was basically one of the pared-back Rock Band games on my Switch.

The balls are the note gems; each pitcher’s lane is the note highway; and swinging my hockey stick (it makes sense in the game) to the beat, keeping a streak going, is nailing a full combo on a plastic instrument. Of course, there are other mini-games (“Net Ball,” a take on volleyball, and “Gobble Golf” are great as well) and deeper multiplayer offerings, but none of them grabbed me quite like “Whacky Bat.”

Super Mario Odyssey is one of the best games I’ve played in years, sure, but I’d rather experience that at home on my TV with surround sound. If I’m on the go, you can bet I’m playing Super Beat Sports.

Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp

Aaron Souppouris

Aaron Souppouris
Features Editor

On first impression, I was as entranced by Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp as I was by New Leaf on the 3DS. Just as Fire Emblem Heroes is exactly what I want from a mobile Fire Emblem game, Pocket Camp seemed to be the perfect distillation of what makes the series so special. You shuffle around, solving various animals’ problems (mostly by gathering fruit, bugs or fish), and in return you get materials to add furniture to your campsite and camper. Pick the right objects and animals will come visit your camp, making space for more characters to appear around the game’s small world. It’s a nice loop that works great on mobile.

After a week or so, though, I felt like I was running out of things to do. The NPCs were giving me similar lines of dialogue, and the challenges were all the same. Perhaps that’s by design. A lot of the game seems to hinge around real people — you can make friends with people you know and don’t, and then team up to complete challenges or wander around their campsite looking at how they’ve chosen to decorate it. Because I played the game on a throwaway account, I’ve been unable to add any people I actually know to the game, and the world Nintendo has crafted began to feel oddly dull and lifeless.

This isn’t really Nintendo’s fault. I jumped through hoops to download Pocket Camp early, essentially lying to my iPhone until it believed I was living in the Sydney Opera House. I’m cautiously optimistic that when the game is released worldwide later this month, I’ll find more to do, because I’ll be playing with friends.

The other lingering question is about the payment structure. Pocket Camp is free to play, and the gifts that Nintendo gives away to new players dry up very quickly. Doing anything after a week seemed to take forever unless I paid to speed things up. Fire Emblem Heroes mostly strikes a good balance here, providing enough hooks for big spenders to keep spending while ensuring that you could choose never to part with real money and still have fun. That equilibrium doesn’t seem to be there for Pocket Camp.

This is definitely Animal Crossing; it’s just not very good right now. But even with these pre-launch issues, I’m still hopeful. The monthly updates to Fire Emblem Heroes over the past eight months have consistently improved it, and if Nintendo pays that much attention to Pocket Camp, it could grow into a great game.

“IRL” is a recurring column in which the Engadget staff run down what they’re buying, using, playing and streaming.

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‘Super Mario Run’ is now available

Finally, there’s a Mario game on smartphones. As promised, Nintendo has released Super Mario Run today, giving iPhone and iPad users a new way to run, leap and spin through the Mushroom Kingdom. It’s an auto-runner, meaning the portly plumber will jog, hop and vault over obstacles automatically. You tap the screen to jump, leaping across gaps and goombas to collect colorful coins. It sounds simple, but there’s a surprising amount of complexity to the platforming. Like Rayman Jungle Run, timing is essential to unlock contextual moves, such as rolls and wall jumps.

The game has a one-time fee of $ 9.99. Nintendo is keen to avoid the free-to-play mechanics that plague so many smartphone games, focusing instead on quality and traditional replayability. The levels are challenging enough, tasking players to collect coins of increasing difficulty. With plenty of stages and worlds to explore, they should keep you preoccupied for hours. There’s also Kingdom Builder, a basic village design mini-game, and Toad Rally, an aysnchronous multiplayer mode that emphasises style over brute-force level completion. The three modes feed into one another too, unlocking one-time “rally tickets,” enemy score multipliers and more.

It’s not all rosy, however. Nintendo has been criticised for demanding an always active internet connection. (The company says it’s to stop piracy.) If you’re the type of person that likes to game on their morning commute, or has to ration a modest data cap each month, this could be a deal-breaker. Regardless, it’s a landmark moment for the company and it’s beloved mustachioed mascot. Miitomo was an interesting experiment, sure, but it pales in comparison to the potential of Super Mario Run. This is a true platformer, albeit one with limited controls, that could make a ton of money and improve Nintendo’s standing in the public conscience.

Source: Super Mario Run (iOS)

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‘Super Mario Run’ is just as much fun as we’d hoped

It’s no stretch to say that Super Mario Run (launching December 15th for iOS; an Android version will arrive next year) is one of the most notable mobile games in years. It’s Nintendo’s first real smartphone game and one of the only instances in which the company has developed a Mario game for non-Nintendo hardware. It’s the first of several mobile titles planned and could mark the start of a major business shift for Nintendo. But let’s put aside all these heady concerns about what Super Mario Run means for the company and answer the most important question: Is the game fun?

Based on the all-too-brief demo I had earlier this week, the answer is a resounding yes. With Super Mario Run, Nintendo has successfully built a Mario title that makes perfect sense for a mobile phone while still featuring surprisingly deep gameplay and a level of polish seen in a small percentage of games, regardless of platform.

The gameplay appears to be identical to what Nintendo first showed off onstage at Apple’s event this past September. Mario runs automatically from left to right, and the player can tap the screen to make him jump. The goal is to get to the end of a course, which seems to take a minute or two, while avoiding death and collecting as many coins as you can.

Naturally, there are a lot of variations on what you can make Mario do here beyond that: Holding longer when you tap makes him jump higher; you can tap again to get a brief momentary hover; you can wall-jump; landing on enemies gives you a chance to string together multiple jumps; and so on. There are a handful of environmental items that change things up as well — jumping off of certain bricks will send Mario soaring to the left instead of to the right, and standing on some bricks will stop Mario so you can assess the coming challenges and plan your route.

In the few levels I tried, getting to the end wasn’t a big challenge. But the replayability should be excellent here because I didn’t come close to grabbing all of the coins in the course — those among us with OCD tendencies are going to be playing these levels multiple times to perfect our route and jump timing. Furthermore, each course has five pink special coins to grab. Getting those unlocks five more purple coins in harder-to-reach locations. Getting those unlocks five black coins, again in even tougher places in the level. It’ll take at least three playthroughs to grab everything in a given level, and to get all the standard coins will be another challenge.

That’s one example of the game’s depth. The next comes when you factor in competition. The main game’s standard 24 levels are only one part of Super Mario Run. There’s also the “Toad Rally,” in which you compete against friends or people all over the world. Entering a Toad Rally competition costs tickets, which you gain in other parts of the game.

Once you’ve entered the rally, you start a timed course that doesn’t have an end and shoot to get as many coins as you can before time runs out. But you also need to impress the Toad judges by doing combo jumps and other more complicated tricks as you make your way through the level. The more you impress the judges, the more they cheer, and the more points you get.

In both the standard “World Tour” and Toad Rally, the gameplay is excellent. There’s enough of a learning curve that I didn’t feel like I could immediately master each level, but it certainly wasn’t hard to just pick up and start playing. Perhaps the trickiest thing for those of us who’ve played a lot of Mario will be remembering you don’t have to jump on Koopas and Goombas — by default, Mario will automatically vault over them. Jumping gives you more points and the opportunity for more combos, but you don’t have to do it.

The Toad Rally has another twist: You put a few members of your personal Toad posse on the line when you play, and if you lose, those Toads defect to the victor’s team. The number of Toads on your team serves as a good representation of how successful you’ve been in the rally — so you can use them to see how good a potential opponent is before challenging them to a match. Toads also serve as some in-game currency for buying little houses and other objects you can use to customize your very own Mario overworld map. There’s no actual game to be played here, but plenty of fans will likely enjoy tweaking the Mario home screen that they see every time the game starts.

Regardless of what part of the game you’re playing, the graphics look wonderful. I played the game on the iPhone 7 Plus and I’ve never seen Mario look quite so sharp and vivid (the last Mario games I played for more than a few minutes were on the original, standard-definition Wii). And there’s no hint of slowdown or performance hiccups here either. I would have liked to see how it performs on less powerful hardware, but we’ll have to wait until the game launches to see what devices you’ll need to have a good experience with Super Mario Run.

Nintendo decided to price Super Mario Run at $ 9.99 — more than most iOS games, but less than most games for the company’s own consoles. I think that’s a fair price, given the number of levels included and the replayability factor here. But if you’re wary, the free version of the game lets you play the first three levels and try your hand at a few Toad Rallies so you can see what it’s all about. Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime said it didn’t feel right to make people pay to keep unlocking levels when there’s so much momentum in the game to keep running through levels, so the company decided to skip all in-app transactions and go with the single one-time purchase.

Ultimately, the entry fee may seem a little high, but I suspect it’ll be one well worth paying — and I think lots of players will agree with me. Having a native Mario experience built from the ground up with the iPhone in mind is a huge win, and the game appears to be equally well suited to quick play on the subway and longer, in-depth sessions when you’re on the plane. I haven’t bought a new Mario game in years, but I’m ready to pull the trigger on Super Mario Run.

Update: If you want to try Super Mario Run out for yourself, Reggie announced on The Tonight Show that starting Thursday, a demo will be available at Apple Stores worldwide.

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‘Super Mario Run’ arrives on iPhone and iPad December 15th

At the iPhone 7 event, Apple and Nintendo revealed that Mario would make his way to iOS devices this December. Well, today Nintendo revealed the exact date: December 15th. That’s the day Super Mario Run will be available to play on iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. The app can be downloaded for free, but you’ll only be able to play parts of the game’s three modes without handing over additional funds. To unlock the full game, you’ll have to pay $ 10.

When the time comes, Super Mario Run will be available in 151 countries (full list here) and 10 languages including English, Japanese, German, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Dutch, Russian and traditional Chinese. If you happen to live in one of those locales, you’ll just need to make sure you have a device that runs iOS 8.0 or later in order to leap over obstacles, take on enemies and collect coins in a few weeks.

Don’t worry, Android faithful: Nintendo says you’ll get a chance to play the mobile game as well. Unfortunately, the company hasn’t announced when, just the vague “at some point in the future.”

Source: Nintendo (Business Wire)

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